1349 Portage Avenue
"City of Amps".
This Mural is a tribute to Gar Gillies (inventor of the Garnet Amplifier), another famous Winnipeg West-Ender.
Location: NE corner Portage & Ashburn; West Face
Occupant: Encore Musical Instruments
District: West End
Artist(s): Mandy van Leeuwen, Jennifer Johnson (Utopian Art Design) Pollock
Sponsors: West End BIZ, Building Communities Initiative
Mandy van Leeuwen: "This was a very ambitious project for us, and it was cold when we
worked there being the end of the season. We weren't finished until the third week in
November. The idea was to show Winnipeg who Gar Gillies was and is. On the right
side we have Gar Gillies standing on his amplifier playing the trombone. The time was
about 1941; he used to have a Jump Band. He played in bootleg clubs; he grew up in the
West End and is considered a local hero for his accomplishments in life. He decided he
needed to hear his voice better so he created a PA system for his Jump Band. Before
long, other band members and musicians approached him for more creative units to
amplify their sound. So it just sort of fell into his lap and became lucrative for him, and
the units evolved into the Garnet amplifier. He became really well known after creating
amplifiers for the Guess Who."
Jennifer Johnson Pollock: "This one was fun- to have the music theme and a tribute to
Gar Gillies. The West End BIZ has been so good, so innovative and so open to new
ideas. This was Executive Director Trudy Turner's idea not only to acknowledge the life
of Gar Gillies and incorporate it onto the side of a music store, but also to do the cut-outs
at the top of it to make it bigger. We spent almost two weeks doing the prep work;
learning how to use a hammer drill and affixing the tap screws into the brick to hold the
crezone boards. We learned a bit as well about Masonry work. It was hard at the end of
it, too, because we worked beyond the end of the Mural season into November. Probably
95% of this wall was done inside the tarp of our Mural house."
Mandy: "The wall originally had grooves in it that went in a half an inch into each brick.
To paint the image on that would take away a lot from the full look of the Mural and
interfere with everything and take a lot more time. So what we did was boarded up the
wall with crezone panels. This gave us the further advantage that we wanted to build the
wall up above the roofline to give it something of its own; an original look. Since it was
going to be built up anyways, it made more sense to use the crezone boards than to use
mortar mixes. Then when we were finished, we cut around the top part in the shapes of
the imagery. I think it's a first for Winnipeg, and I've never seen it anywhere else. But
it's a lot of fun to be given the room to be creative and original about some of the ideas
you can do and try and experiment with into the Mural."
Jennifer: "The whole theme is a 'City of Amps'. That's what Gar Gillies' mainstay has
been, the Garnet Amp. He's constantly working on things; he's 83 and still going strong.
We have all of The Guess Who band members standing on the amps: the Guillotine,
which is under the window; and the Herzog, which Gar is standing on playing his
trombone. We wanted to put some cars in the background- we needed something in the
background that would represent the era we were in for the wall but also work with the
whole theme and the fact that this is right on Portage Avenue (which is Winnipeg car
enthusiasts' favourite strip for the tradition of Sunday night cruising). So you've got the
cars with the lights; and just the whole jazz theme and jazz era of it."
Mandy: "The idea of doing something musical was very exciting for me because I love
everything to do with music; it's a very exciting topic to work with and I would do it
again! We had some requests to feature a couple of guitars on the wall to help give it that
musical vibe. We used the original line-up of the Guess Who (following Chad Allan and
the Expressions), which was Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Jim Kale and Garry
Peterson. We had photos of them at that time and portrayed our images of them onto the
wall in a performing mode. Another thing about this design I really liked was that we
made it to look like they were playing on a 'City of Amps'. In the background you see a
silhouette suggestive that they're playing in a city. When I look at this too, I think of the
psychedelia of the time of that era. There are the colours, and you see the tube-like look
behind them. Gar's amps were tube amps. The logo on the drum kit was one of the
logos we found in our research that they used on T-shirts and such: a very Canadian feel
Jennifer: "The Guess Who used to use the Beaver as their logo, not on the drum kit per
se, but on T-shirts and such. It was in black-and-white, so we colourized it here. We had
pictures of all four of them together, but they weren't clear enough to do the individual
portraitures. For the likeness of Peterson, we used a clipping from the Winnipeg Free
Press. Kale is shown with that particular stance; that's the way he always stood when he
was playing bass. But we didn't have a clear picture of his face; so once again we used a
clipping from Winnipeg Free Press. For Burton Cummings, his stance and his face were
taken from a picture in a book called 'American Woman: the History of the Guess Who.'
This is a picture of him singing at the University of Manitoba. The picture of Randy
Bachman was used as an advertisement for Gar Gillies' Herzog. The reason we had that
note from Randy Bachman in there (see Photo 3) is that we wanted something for people who didn't
know Randy or Gar to associate the two together and Gar's importance. That note was
from the heart, it was all true, and it seemed appropriate: it was Randy who had the
strongest affiliation with Gar."
Mandy: "The guitar on the left (Photo 4) was a Hank Marvin guitar (original founder of the
Shadows and backed Cliff Richards as a member of The Drifters). We thought that this
would be a really good vintage guitar to use. We thought that it made sense to have a
focal point about the music; just the playing, not who it is. We had one of the guys,
Mike, from the store model for us. He had that ring on his finger and made the special
request to include the ring on the wall as a tribute to his late mother. He posed live for us
and also did a 'rock star face' which unfortunately we didn't get to use! It's cool to see
something blown up so large; that aspect again for impact was really good."
"There was so much work just to be warm at this wall! Once we got the boards up it
started getting really cold so we had to build our scaffolding house (Photo 5). This year we got
really good at it, and it was a lot more sophisticated than last year's; and a lot warmer
than last year's too. But the temperatures were a lot colder and we used it for a lot longer
than last year. We went through lots of propane to heat that; and we had a lot of propane
heater problems-4 foot flames shooting out at us, leaking, and so on! Every day would
be: get on 6 layers of clothing, get out to the wall, get set up, paint: it was a huge
production requiring a lot of energy. As soon as you get home you'd go to bed and get
up and do all over again."
Jennifer: "Gar is the biggest portrait that I've ever done. To get an absolute likeness was
enjoyable. Even people who didn't know him would walk by the wall and would see that
big smile on his face and they'd be smiling! Mandy touched up his hair."
Mandy: "Gar loves his paisley suspenders; they're like a trademark for him, and we HAD
to include them in his portrait! He has four or five sets. Gar was very helpful on this
project; he would drop by the site occasionally and gave us photo imagery of his amps; a
very happy guy! We had fun; Gar was a sweetheart!" (Note- at the Mural unveiling
reception in December, Gar privately presented both Mandy and Jennifer with brightly
coloured suspenders as a token of his appreciation; see Photo 6.)
Jennifer: "When we met Gar for the first time, we quickly fell in love with him like
everyone else that gets to know him. This Mural was exciting and full of challenges for
us; but in the end we were really driven by what this would mean to people who view this
wall. People would walk by and get hit by his contagious smile. We enjoyed this
opportunity not only to work with the theme, but also to showcase the pride of the
community in this local hero. We'd like to give thanks to Gar for continuing to ensure his
inspiring touch with Winnipeg."
About Gar Gillies:
Gar Gillies, local hero, has been living humbly with his wife, Rita in the West End
without any fanfare. He's been doing his work and creating all sorts of different things.
He's still works almost full-time in his shop on St. Matthews Avenue repairing electronic
equipment and inventing new products. His claim to fame is that he is the inventor of the
Garnet amp, an amp which Randy Bachman used, and was chiefly responsible for the
Randy Bachman sound. When one considers the impact that's had in the world, it's truly
A musician himself, Gar sang and played trombone in the Gar Gillies Jump Band. He built his
first Public Address system back in 1938 out of old radio parts and pieces, simply so that
people could hear him better! Garnet Amplifiers were never planned; it was more of an
evolution out of his old radio repair shop. Gar's son was a roadie for The Reflections,
who eventually became the Guess Who; so he built them all guitar amplifiers and a piano
amplifier. He worked closely with Randy Bachman in particular; and experimented with
and invented various gadgets and machines that would bend, distort or otherwise
produce unique sounds. Other Winnipeg Groups heard these amplifiers, and THEY
wanted them as well.
Gar understood the life of struggling musicians and was willing to do the work "on
credit" and for whatever they could afford to pay over time. His penchant to please
musicians would be the downfall of the company- Garnet Amplifiers closed its doors,
bankrupt, in 1989. But to this day, Gar says that he has enjoyed every minute of it. As
long as there is equipment to fix and musicians looking for a new sound he will have a
job to do. He recently sent Lenny Kravitz one of his inventions that would allow him to
duplicate the sound of Randy Bachman's guitar solo in 'American Woman'. Collectors
are also paying attention; and will grab up any Garnet gear they can get their hands on.
Amplifiers which originally sold for $50 are now being auctioned off or bought and
sold by private collectors for $1000 or more.
In 2003, when Randy Bachman learned of the undertaking to commemorate Gar Gillies
with a new Mural in the West End, he wrote the following letter of tribute to
Randy Bachman: "I am so pleased and proud that Winnipeg is recognizing the true
founder and originator of the 'Winnipeg sound', Mr. Garnet Gillies. Way back in the
sixties, Gar built great sounding amps and gave the musicians in town something else that
no one else would give them- credit!! Gar being a cool musician himself knew what it
was like to be a struggling kid with a dream of playing and not having the means to do so.
The mid-sixties were an awakening for me; I met two of the greatest influences of my life.
My guitar licks came from Lenny Breau and my guitar sound came from Gar Gillies. I
fondly remember he and I spending many late nights at his first location on Osborne
Street making strange, weird, incredible noises and sounds. As those got refined and
tamed and put into boxes, we gave them names: The Garnet Amp, The Session Man, The
BTO (Big Time Operator), the Herzog, The Stinger, and many others. Gar also built PA
Systems and you'd be hard pressed to find a photo of any Winnipeg band from the 60's
onward without seeing a piece of Garnet gear on the stage."
"The U.S.A. has their Leo Fender, Orville Gibson, C.F. Martin; the UK has their Jim
Marshall; and Winnipeg, Canada has their Gar Gillies. He was a true innovator and I
know of no other person in the music business who has been so kind, generous, helpful,
loving, giving and caring about the music and musicians than Gar. I'm very proud to
have been a friend of his for almost 40 years. He is a true 'cat' in every way."
"Every time a Guess Who or Bachman-Turner Overdrive song is played on the radio, the
spirit of Gar Gillies echoes around the world. I thank him from the bottom of my heart
for all he's done for me, I have a 'sound' that people recognize and that, to me, is